Fishing Guides:

How To Catch Whiting

Whiting may not be one of the most popular fish to target in the surf, but they sure are fun and tasty. On light tackle, they can put up a good fight, and they’re so common you can spend a whole day reeling them in from the surf.

Whiting (or Southern Kingfish) don’t grow very big, but they make an excellent fish fry if you catch enough of them. An easy species to target and catch for anglers of any skill level, whiting is a great choice to keep you busy on a surf fishing trip. We’ll go over everything you need to know to get started or improve your odds of landing a bunch of whiting on your next trip.


Chapter 1:

Learn About Whiting

The more you know about your target species, the better chance you can have a successful day targeting them. You need to understand where whiting frequently spends their time and what they eat to catch them. Here we’ll go over all the basics of fishing for whiting.

Where can I Catch Whiting?

Whitings are small fish that spend most of their time in the surf zone and shallow waters along the shore. All three species of whiting (the Southern Kingfish, Gulf Kingfish, and Northern Kingfish) are all found in the Gulf of Mexico and are especially common along Florida’s coasts.

How to Identify Whiting

There are three different species of whiting, with minimal differences between them. The Gulf Kingfish is the most common, with a silvery body. The Southern Kingfish is much darker in color, with larger pectoral fins, while the Northern Kingfish has dark brown or black stripes on a silver body. 

Whiting is so plentiful that most states have no regulations on their harvest outside of their “unregulated species” limits. It’s infrequent for whiting to grow beyond 12 inches, with the rare specimen reaching 18 inches. 

Whiting’s Preferred Food

Whiting spends their time in the surf zone because the constant wave action churns up the tiny crustaceans, worms, and fish that they feed on. Even though they prefer foods like shrimp and sand fleas, whiting will readily eat any available natural bait as long as they can fit it into their mouths. 

Chapter 2:

Whiting Fishing Tactics

Targeting whiting is incredibly simple and easy. Unlike other species you’ll find in the surf, you can find whiting without looking for any cuts in a sandbar or troughs since they prefer the wave action up to and down the beach. You will, of course, find more success in those higher traffic areas, though, so fish them when you have the chance. Their abundance means that even on days you can’t find any other fish, you still should be able to land a few whiting.


When is the best time to fish for whiting?

The best time to fish for whiting is in the morning and evening since, like most fish, they tend to feed during these periods. You can get bites from whiting throughout the day and night, though, so no need to stress about the time of day. Don’t be afraid of rougher surf either, as this churns up the bottom and sends whiting into feeding mode. 

What gear should I use?

Standard surf gear is fine for whiting, but they are very easy to overpower. On calmer days, use ultralight combos to add some challenge and let the fish fight. On rougher days when they are more active, you’ll need a heavier lead and thus more serious gear, but reeling them in one after the other and instant bites makes up for their lack of fight. 

How strength line works best?

Whiting rarely weighs more than a pound, and don’t fight hard even for their size, so you can use ultralight lines under 6 pounds if you like. A 1/0 hook or smaller is ideal since they have small mouths. Just make sure to use a tiny bait as well. 

Best rigs for whiting?

Pretty much any kind of rig does well with whiting. Pompano rigs and sliding rigs are the best choices for ease of use, but you can even use sabiki rigs to hook whiting. Be careful if you decide to use a sabiki though, they’re easy to tangle, and you might get more than one bite at once.

What kind of bait should I use?

Whichever rig you choose, make sure to use small baits. Tiny shreds of shrimp or small sand fleas work well. You can also use artificial bait like Fish Bites and find great success.

Chapter 3:

Insider Tips


#1: Fish on the roughest days you can.

The rougher the waves, the more the bottom gets churned up. This causes all of the whiting’s favorite foods to get mixed up in the surf and cause them to go into feeding mode. As a result, your bait won’t seem out of place with food floating around, and whiting will be actively hunting for something to eat. 

#2: Small hooks and small baits.

Whiting is a small fish, but even in comparison to their body, their mouth is small. They’re bottom feeders that suck up little bits of food from the sand. Don’t be afraid to let your bait sit on the bottom, and make sure to use a small hook (around 1/0 or smaller) and a tiny piece of bait. Their barbels will smell it out, even if it is little.

#3: Use the lightest combo you can.

Even medium-action rods and surf gear overpower whiting. If you want to feel their fight and add a little challenge, using ultralight gear and line can make it much more fun to reel in whiting. Be cautious with this, though, since, on rougher waves and current days, you’ll break off much more frequently. 

#4: Use whiting as bait!

Though they are great to eat, whiting also makes great fresh bait for other larger surf species. Sharks, redfish, jacks, and bluefish feed on whiting as they travel down the beach, so tiny live whiting or a cut piece is likely to get their attention. The best thing to do is hook them right behind the head as live bait or cut a full, round section of their body to bait your hook. Hooking it this way will help keep it on your hook.

#5: Fish the surf like you would for other species like pompano.

You can find whiting anywhere up and down the beach. Troughs, currents, cuts, and holes matter much less when it comes to successful whiting than other fish. If you can identify good fishing areas, though, you should use them. These areas hold more fish than random beach locations, and not only will you have a little better success with whiting, but you’ll also get bites from other species.

Chapter 4:

Gear Recommendations

If you’re going to go whiting fishing, you’ll want to have the right gear. Using the right stuff will not only increase your odds of success, but it’ll help you enjoy your time on the water even more. Here are our top picks for whiting fishing. 



On a calm day where you can get away with a shorter rod, an ultralight will make fighting whiting much more fun. Roughed days you’re going to need a surf rod to get your line above the water, so a normal surf fishing rod is ideal. 

Best Ultralight Option: Shakespeare Micro Spinning Rod

Shakespeare Micro Series Spinning Rod Brown/Black, 5-Feet/Ultra-Light
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Coming in multiple sizes, the micro rod from Shakespeare is a perfect rod for whiting. The ultralight is the best choice to give them a fighting chance, though its five-foot length makes it tough to fish rough surf days. 

With cork grips, a graphite composite blank, and stainless steel guides, the rod will be plenty durable even in saltwater. If the ultralight doesn’t seem like enough, try out the light action size instead.

Best Choice for a Surf Rod: Shakespeare Tidewater

Shakespeare Tidewater Spinning Fishing Rod
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Tidewaters is one of the absolute best rods for surf fishing. The twelve-foot rod is incredibly flexible at its tip and can cast well over 100 yards with the right weight and technique. When it comes to whiting, even the medium action is going to overpower them, so use this rod on rougher surf days.

The foam grips on Tidewaters are comfortable and resist deteriorating from saltwater. It’s got a graphite reel seat and ceramic guide eyes that can stand up to tough use without breaking down.


Just like with rods, it’s incredibly easy to overwhelm whiting with conventional surf gear. Try to use smaller reels with less power if you’re targeting whiting, even if it’s just a downsize of your favorite reels. 

Best Option: Penn Spinfisher VI

PENN 1481262 Spinfisher VI Spinning Saltwater Reel, 4500 Reel Size, 6.2: 1 Gear Ratio, 40' Retrieve Rate, 6 Bearings, Ambidextrous
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The Penn Spinfisher line is one of the best quality spinning reels on the market. Fully sealed against saltwater, a powerful drag, and a smooth crank make this durable and long-lasting reel a fantastic choice for any sort of saltwater fishing.

While Spinfishers are some of the absolute best reels you can buy, almost all of them will overpower whiting. Either go for 2500 to specifically target whiting, or use a 3500-5500 size and fish it in the normal holes where you can find pompano, redfish, and other species. 

Best Budget Alternative: KastKing Summer and Centron

KastKing Centron Spinning Reel,Size 500 Fishing Reel
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Made for ice fishing and ultralight gear, the Centron is a great choice to pair with a light rod for whiting. It’s also ridiculously inexpensive for the amount of power it has and can make fighting whiting more of a challenge. 

This tiny reel still maxes out around 17 pounds of drag, making it fantastic for surf fishing in case you hook something larger than whiting. The anodized aluminum internal parts and graphite frame are corrosion resistant and stand up to salt and spray.


Whiting will pretty much eat anything you throw at them. Shrimp and Fish bites are great thanks to their strong smell, and you can cut them into bite-sized pieces for whiting.


Any kind of shrimp will work well, including frozen shrimp. Try to cut tiny pieces off the shrimp by feeling the grooves on its body and cutting sleeves off. You can also try long slivers of shrimp that hang off your hook, forcing the whiting to suck up both the bait and hook at once. 

Sand Fleas (Mole Crabs)

Whiting feeds on worms, mole crabs, and other small crustacean species in the surf. If you can get sand fleas that are small enough to fit in their mouths, whiting will definitely take them. While not the best bait, it’s a great budget choice since you can dig your own bait up when you get to the beach.

Fishbites E-Z Shrimp Saltwater Baits

Fishbites E-Z Shrimp - Longer Lasting (Pink)
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Fish Bites come in a ton of different flavors, and whiting like them all. Cut small triangles or squares off the strips and get them firmly onto your hook. Pro-tip, make sure some of the internal mesh is in your piece of bait to make sure it stays on the hook. Just make sure to use tiny pieces of Fish Bites and get ready to reel in the whiting. 


The best rig is a matter of personal preference when it comes to whiting. You can make a simple leader by tying a 1/0 hook to one end of a piece of mono, sliding a small egg sinker on, and then typing it off to a swivel. If you have extra pompano rigs around, swap out the hooks for smaller ones and they will work just as well.

Chapter 5:

Final Thoughts

Whiting is an easy fish to begin targeting, thanks to their widespread abundance and lack of necessary specialized gear. If you have any fishing tackle, you have what you need to start whiting fishing, and if you can catch enough, you can put together a pretty good fish fry. After reading through this guide, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to get started too.

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